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Author: Brian Murff

See, The Name is Ironic Because… Never Mind

Fool’s Gold is an LA-based octet that recently released their self-titled debut, Fool’s Gold. It’s honestly difficult to adequately capture their sound – some make comparisons to Vampire Weekend, but that’s like saying a Lotus is similar to a Toyota because they have the same engine. What you’ve got here is a homegrown fusion of Afrobeat, reggae, jam, and a smattering of rock and pop. The overall sound is a tropical/island one, for the most part. Then lead singer Luke Top comes in with Hebrew vocals, and where does that leave you? LA, apparently. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

“Surprise Hotel” is the lead track, and possibly the best known of their offerings. It’s got their signature tropical sound, and opens heavy on strings and guitar before adding in all-Hebrew vocals around one and a half minutes in. It’s really chill music, and reminds me a bit of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole if the big guy had more energy. Fool’s Gold does a great job of harmonizing and balancing vocals against their guitar and other instrumentation.

Later, “The World Is All There Is” demonstrates a much more emphatic African drum influence. The song has a strong international flavor – not that others don’t, but this one uses it to greater effect. The Hebrew vocals layer seamlessly over everything.

Frankly, I can barely even distinguish between everything that’s going on here. There’s the lead vocals, backup vocals, drums, auxiliary percussion like shakers and tambourine, guitar, saxophone, and it’s all blending and weaving in and out of each other. As good as the preceding songs are, this one is my favorite, if only for the irresistible energy it displays. There’s even a smooth a capella outro at the end, too. Can’t lose!

Nearer the end, instrumental track “Night Dancing” comes in with more of a latin influence than other songs. It’s fitting considering the multiethnic (and specifically hispanic) backgrounds that many of the band’s members have. It’s also faster than any of the other songs, with a driving bass beat and some sweet brass popping in periodically, making a nice addition to the saxophone that frequents so many of their songs.

This really is one of those albums that means more when experienced as a whole instead of individual songs. From “Surprise Hotel” and “Night Dancing” to other tracks like “Nadine” and “Poseidon,” Fool’s Gold has a sound that’s fresh, new, and incorporates about a dozen musical traditions into a wild medley that is all their own. Don’t be shy, go ahead and pick up Fool’s Gold. Your ears will thank you.

From Pillar to Post to Review

Logan Lynn is an interesting artist. He falls solidly within electro-pop, but the overall tone is darker than average, with sexual innuendo practically screaming at you within every song. The musical style reminds me a little of Mae or Joy Electric, but other than that I’ve really got no point of reference to help you out with. From Pillar to Post is his newest album, and today I’ve got the pleasure of talking about it on the interwebs.

The album opens strongly with “Feed Me To The Wolves,” a track that’s heavy on the electronic and light on pop. The sound is full and thick, with lots of synth (the good kind) layered under his vocals. The song is a little simple lyrically, but the overall polish more than makes up for it.

Further in, “Write It On My Left Arm” breaks up the rhythm Lynn builds up for himself with faster tempo and some great percussion. It’s one of the standout songs of the album, with great energy and snarky lyrics like, “When the going gets tough / The tough quit going to work.” As the album progresses, you’ll hear little word plays and witty turns of expression that add a lot of personality to the songs.

“Burning Your Glory” is another of the better songs on the album, with talented instrumental composition at the beginning of the track. It has a great beat, though it would have been even better had he included even more variation on the opening theme. Unfortunately, the song is hurt by what feels like an overly-long rendition; it could have been trimmed without losing any strength.

Logan Lynn closes out with “The Dotted Line,” an off-the-wall change to his sound that aptly wraps up everything else. It’s more hip-hop or club than anything before it, with a section of harmonic conflict that only reaches resolution when he enters on vocals. Lyrics are a bit dark, ending with things like, “No one to hold you / no one to sign / no one to sign on the dotted line / …. you’ll have to save yourself this time.”

From Pillar to Post makes for an entertaining listen. Logan Lynn blends his electronic styling perfectly with his vocals, and has created an album that is very clean, adding in nice touches here and there like his verbal wordplay. In later works, I’d love to see him further develop his lyrics – expanding and increasing those touches would make a good artist even better.

Matt & Kim Tear It Up

Matt & Kim
Matt & Kim

Monday night, I had the distinct pleasure of watching pop duo Matt & Kim perform at the University of Oklahoma. All I can say is this: I wish you all could have been there. It was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in recent memory.

I rather sheepishly admit to only having been vaguely familiar with Matt & Kim’s music before our fearless editor Stephen brought the performance to my attention. That being said, I rather quickly realized that they’re one of the more special acts out there.

Not only is their music great, with cheery sensibilities and beats that you can’t help but dance to, their concerts are incredible experiences. Matt & Kim have a certain infectious energy about them – they come on stage happy, make jokes, laugh and interact with the crowd, and don’t generally take anything they’re doing too seriously. They’re playing music because they enjoy it, and that comes through in their performance.

Travis had fun.
Travis had fun.

At the concert I attended, there was a pretty even mix of two groups. First, there were the kids who live for concerts and clearly didn’t care what anybody else thought of them as they ran around dancing and attempting crowd-surfs. Second, there were those who were there to enjoy the music, but didn’t necessarily intend to get involved physically. By the end of the show, there were none of the second group. Each and every person in the auditorium was jumping, dancing, clapping, and singing, regardless of whether or not they knew the lyrics or had any sense of rhythm. Case in point: I dragged my friend Travis along for the show. He was incredibly skeptical beforehand, as his taste in music tends more toward country than electro-pop. By the end, he was giggling like a little girl and moving to the music even more than me.

If that doesn’t require some serious talent from those on the stage, I don’t know what does.

Starting with songs like “Yea Yeah” and “Lessons Learned,” Matt & Kim kept the crowd entertained throughout. They interjected comments like, “this is the fastest song we’ve ever written, and now we’re going to play it twice as fast,” or, “this is the first time we’ve ever played in Norman, Oklahoma, so we’re going to dedicate this song to you. Every time we ever come back here, we’re playing it for you.” That might sound kinda cheesy, but they’re so genuinely friendly that you can’t help but eat it up.

In between two songs, one guy in the crowd asked if they were going to play the song “Cutdown.” It wasn’t in their set, but twenty minutes later they played it for him. At one point, they busted out an electronic version of the theme song from Rocky. It’s the little things, folks – small touches here and there that make a concert go from decent to amazing.

Auditorium: full
Auditorium: full

Their set ended with what is likely their best-known song – “Daylight.” If you don’t know it, you’ve probably at least heard it before without realizing it. Bacardi recently used it in one of their Mojito commercials; yeah, that one. Suffice to that they didn’t disappoint with it, going out with a massive bang that had all 400+ people in the room on their feet. The show ended fittingly, with a Matt-&-Kim-endorsed dance party in the front of the auditorium.

Obviously, words can’t really describe what went on last night, but I’ll try to do it justice. The concert was fun. It was exuberant. It was lighthearted, friendly, happy, energetic music by arguably one of the most entertaining bands I’ve ever seen. For the love of all that’s holy, if Matt & Kim are playing anywhere within a two hundred mile radius of where you live, go see them. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Of the Cathmawr Chills

I listen to a wide variety of music – really, almost anything but country (cue an involuntary shudder). I’ve got music for different moods and different activities. Of The Cathmawr Yards is the newest album from Horse’s Ha, an indie pop group with folk influence. Their sound is mellow, with a pace that is almost leisurely. Standard rock/pop instrumentation is set off by violin and non-standard vocals that vary from a single, husky female voice to a trio of two women and a man. If I had to describe them, I’d say they’re a varying mix of Fleet Foxes, Rocky Votolato, and The Arcade Fire.

The song “Plumb” is a somewhat simplistic opening, but it captures their style nicely. They make use of contrasting male and female vocals throughout, which is especially appealing with the multi-octave separation. The tone is a little dreamy, something like a folk-influenced lullaby.

Here and there in other parts of the album are bits that will make you smile. “Asleep In A Waterfall” has a bass and percussion intro that’s fun and mischievous; “Left Hand” delivers a solid dose of wit with the lyrics, “Let down by my own left hand / A pox on this man let down by his own left hand.” Additionally, use of trumpet on “Left Hand” gives it some great flavor. When I listened to “Heiress,” it reminded me of Firefly, beloved one-season sci-fi fusion of space, westerns, and competing western and Chinese culture. It has strong emotional appeal and a bevy of instruments coming into play throughout.

Elsewhere in the album, “The Piss Choir” is a standout with a playful intro and strong melody and progression. There is always something going on in the music of Horse’s Ha. It’s rich, full, and captivating; I’m constantly trying to identify the various elements floating in and out of each song. That’s awesome.

In spite of their interesting and nuanced vocals, instrumentals are where Horse’s Ha really shine. The song “Liberation” is an instrumental that makes use of a range of instruments, including guitar, violin, percussion, piano, and trumpet. “Map of Stars” also displays excellent instrumentals. The song has vocals, but they are secondary to some fabulous musicianship that occurs when removing singing from the equation. The song has a great feeling of movement and progression, almost like there’s some Aaron Copland (classical composer) influence to it. Horse’s Ha should do an all-instrumental album, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Of The Cathmawr Yards is a strong album that displays a wide range of musical capabilities and thoughtful writing. More importantly to me, it’s great music for relaxing, which is something I’ve found myself craving while traveling in Beijing. If there was ever a city absolutely guaranteed to make you feel stress, Beijing would definitely be that city. Not only am I enjoying the album, I’ve actually found it a little therapeutic! If you need something similar, be sure to pick up Of The Cathmawr Yards by Horse’s Ha.

Dumpster Diving with A Billion Ernies

Dumpster Generation by A Billion Ernies is a hard-hitting album that rarely lets up from start to finish. If you’re not familiar with the band, their sound is a mix of ska and hard rock. Think Emery or Chevelle meets Streetlight Manifesto. It’s standard rock instrumentation, plus trumpet, trombone, and a vocalist prone to bouts of screaming. A Billion Ernies maintain a relatively raw sound – not quite garage rock, but not all that far from it, either.

The album opens with “Two Kings” and “Used Up.” They’re actually a little softer than other songs on the album, with more of an emphasis on the ska influence. “Two Kings” is a little heavy on the bass, and almost anthemic at points, then transitions into a much harder rock tonality about 2:00 in. “Used Up” has a little more of the same, with powerful vocals and backup vocal hits. There’s a driving, upbeat tempo, with periodic screaming and brass (trumpet and trombone, if you’re curious; typical ska instrumentation, though I definitely hear saxophone as well, which is a little less common).

Also good are “The Existentialist’s Apprentice” and “Idea12,” which display a broader range and more versatility than other songs on the album. “The Existentialist’s Apprentice” starts off with a cool guitar lick and drums; it’s less metal or hard rock and more light ska. That’s all relative, of course – everything on the album is harder than most ska groups, like Streetlight Manifesto or Suburban Legends. “Idea12” has a cool beginning with some Latin influence. Lyrics start with, “Another day / another dollar / another eight hours of feeling used/ This is not where I’m supposed to be” and add great tone. This is one of the better examples of their sound, with broad style and energy that varies from a quiet opening to a loud, bombastic chorus, with great use of all of their instrumentation. At around 2:00, it breaks down into hard rock that’s strangely reminiscent of early Blindside (certainly not a bad thing to remind me of).

Unfortunately, A Billion Ernies sometimes goes a bit far into the hard rock territory, losing the ska edge that makes their sound unique. Songs like “Point-Click” default to generic hard rock and screamo, which I found a little disappointing. It feels more like rock that just happens to have a few brass musicians hanging around. The album also drooped a little at the end, with songs like “Athiest” and “Addict” failing to impress me. It is worth noting that it ends on a positive note; “Thanks” is an acoustic piece, borderline singer-songwriter business. It’s got a very raw, back-room unpolished feel to it, with strong lyrics that proclaim, “Count your blessings / You’re still alive, who knows / Your mother could have killed you / Before you arrived / What a world.” I found it an interesting and welcome way to end the album.

Dumpster Generation is a solid release, though not everyone will find it appealing – hard ska-rock is definitely a niche genre. I found much of it to be enjoyable, but a wider range and more exploration of alternative sounds would have been welcome. Too often a song would devolve into mindless screaming. I’m all for hard stuff, but without reason it becomes a little self-indulgent.

I realize this is all a little muddled. Frankly, that’s because I’ve got mixed feelings. Consider this a “yes, but…” recommendation. It’s a good album, but I would like to see more variation and innovation from A Billion Ernies in the future.

Say Hello To Merykid

The name of the game today is Merykid‘s newest EP, Boy and the Bird, and why you should get it. First of all, you should all trust my excellent taste and judgment in these matters. Failing that, take a look at my impressions, then give Merykid a listen. This guy is a singer-songwriter, yes, but his music is greater than that bland definition. It has attitude, sincere emotion, and creative writing. Songs alternately brought to mind other artists like Temposhark, Sufjan Stevens, and Keaton Simons. What’s more, all the tracks are equally accessible individually or as a whole, which is always a plus, right?

“Bad Things” starts things off right with a wicked keyboard intro and thick effects on the vocals. It comes off as kind of echo-y, almost like the vocalist is singing through a megaphone. The song wastes no time, morphing into a Temposhark-esque drumbeat and electronic bit. The lyrics on this song are simplistic, but vocals are strong and sound great: “Sometimes the bad things are the best things.” Overall, the song is set apart with tons of electronic effects, and 3D sound moving between left and right monitors.

There’s a totally different tone on “The Bird,” which features an acoustic guitar intro and clean vocals; it’s more traditional singer/songwriter territory. The vocals remind me of Keaton Simons a little, or maybe Jason Mraz. The addition of drums, bass, and violin at around the one minute mark flesh out the track’s sound and give it more character. Around 1:30, Merykid surprises with a transition into a jazzy breakdown as drums, piano, then electric guitar are added. “The Bird” gains  a lot of attitude here, great differentiation from more generic stuff. Strong rhythm and counter-beats among the different instrumental parts top off a great song.

“Goodbye Moon” is up next, and it takes a departure from the previous two tracks. It opens with marimba – a softer, quieter, feel than earlier. Add in xylophone, strings, and then vocals, the combination of which made me think of Sufjan Stevens (by no means a bad artist to be compared to). Vocals are good, though lyrics have something of a dark undertone with the likes of, “I am not the kind of man who talks about his problems / when they need not be told / and I am sinking deeper into the quicksand around me / and I feel I am alone / So goodbye to the moon, and goodbye to the stars above.” The instrumentation here is excellent, really making for great effect when the more traditional rock ensemble comes in on top. There are layers and layers of sound, walls of sound, all emotional and energetic and vibrant and flowing. It’s great stuff, really.

“Clean Freak! Ghost!” was by far my favorite song of the album, though I’m hard-pressed to offer a specific reason why. It opens with some great lines like, “You could be a beggar the way you ask me for change / I could be a mover how you’re asking me to stay.” I find it a little strange that this is my favorite, because it’s the closest to what I would consider a typical/generic singer/songwriter approach – acoustic guitar and vocals, little else. Maybe it’s because this one feels like it’s got the most emotion invested in it. It seems personal. Some electronic effects enter at the chorus, but they only add to the overall feel. “I’m a clean freak ghost / I cover my tracks and I disappear like smoke / I’m a desperate man / So I will be on my way as soon as I can.” This is also by far the longest track of the album, weighing in at 6:40, but it’s worth every second.

Boy and the Bird is a great release from Merykid. It’s got plenty of depth and variety, especially for a six-track EP. What’s more, I discovered that this guy is from my hometown, beautiful (hot) San Antonio. Hopefully I can catch a performance when I get back into the states. For the rest of you, check out his stuff on, or pick up Boy and the Bird on iTunes.

I'm a Pony, You're a Pony

The Lava Children’s self-titled mini-LP was released a couple of weeks ago. It isn’t terribly long, hence the “mini-” designation, but the five tracks they offer are a good collection of their efforts thus far. The PR blurb I received said something about their music being like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was immediately skeptical – most bands, or at least the agents that represent them, like to think that their band is unique and unlike anything else ever produced.

While this isn’t entirely true with The Lava Children, their sound is probably the closest I’ve heard to matching that claim in a while. It’s soft, ethereal trip-rock, with female lead vocals that range from barely comprehensible to entirely indecipherable, and simple but catchy instrumentals. I kept trying to think of bands that they sounded like, and then realizing what I’d come up with was nothing like their sound. Pixies? Nope, and I’m not sure why I even thought that. Joy Division, Eisley, Sixpence? No, no, and no, though The Lava Children have a little in common with each of them. I’m going to try to capture what their sound really is, so read on, sir/ma’am.

“I Am A Pony” kicks off the mini-LP with a bit more energy than the rest of the tracks. Guitar and bass bits are strong, contrasting nicely with the vocals. They (the vocals) really aren’t lyrical. You can occasionally hear words, but it’s more just tonal singing. Oh, and it’s trippy stuff, if you didn’t catch that, all echo-y and seemingly nonsensical. There’s a cool, if not strange beat throughout. It feels like one of the songs that belongs in a “caper” movie (Ocean’s Eleven, etc).

The album slows with “Particles.” It’s a load of crazy moaning, both from the guitar and from the vocalist. Everything is slow and exaggerated. It reminds me a bit of the later Beatles’ acid stuff. There are tons of effects on this song, which pair with the slower tempo to create a meandering, dreamy effect. There’s something of a dark undercurrent as well. “Troll” is similar, with a long, trippy instrumental intro. It features some interesting changes in tempo when moving between in and out of the chorus, mixing the slightly-more energetic with the dreamy. Most of the vocals sound as though the singer was on the other side of the room from the mic – far away, and a good fit for the overall tone.

“Firefly” includes male vocals in the background that aren’t featured elsewhere. It’s a good sound – dare I say better than with the lead vocalist by herself? I like the effect, anyway. It’s got the same overall sound as “Particles,” though the chorus is clear and has better movement to it. The album is finished with “The Green Word,” a song with great guitar bits and somewhat more understandable lyrics than earlier.

I would prefer to hear more along the lines of “Firefly” or “I Am A Pony” and less “Particles” in The Lava Children’s future releases. Trippy music is all well and good, but it should retain energy and purpose – frankly, trippy for trippy’s sake gets boring. This is otherwise a solid album, with strong continuity between songs. Listening to The Lava Children mini-LP in its entirety makes for a much better experience than giving the songs a listen one at a time. Give it a go if you want to experience something quite different from your usual fare. Trust me, whatever that is, The Lava Children are different.

Suckers Are Anything But That

Have you heard of Suckers before? No? Well now that I’ve got you here, no more excuses. They’re a New York-based band with some serious talent and a sound that’s something like Polyphonic Spree mixed with Louis XIV and Franz Ferdinand. A lot of diverse instrumentation is one of their strengths; in fact, each one of them plays multiple instruments. Quinn Walker plays guitar, keyboard and floor tom; Austin Fisher plays guitar, sampler, and keyboard; Pan is on bass, trumpet, and sampler; Brian Aiken plays drums and keyboards; all four of them sing. Vocals are strong, as is the rich song composition throughout. Their self-titled Suckers EP was recently released on the IAMSOUND label, so no time to lose! Here’s what I thought of the EP:

The EP opens with “It Gets Your Body Movin’;” this is the one that immediately made me think of the Polyphonic Spree. The pace is laid-back, with main and backup vocals, a strong trumpet part, with background keyboard and drums rounding it out. In my notes, I described this song as, “happy music.” I know, I’ve got great insight. Now you know exactly what the song sounds like. The ending has strong character, with a sweet whistling bit that everything else is slowly layered on top of. First guitar, then shaker, then drums. The song builds continuously in instrumental until the vocals make a comeback. It’s very powerful stuff, borderline anthemic in its nature.

Next up in the playlist is “Beach Queen,” with a fun keyboard and percussive intro. Guitars, then vocals make an entrance, the whole time maintaining a fun, light tone. It’s got a catchy rhythm and vocals that at times made me think of Queen or Louis XIV. This song is great fun – the bass has a funk groove going on, keyboard is rhythmic and repeating the same, “do, do-do, do-do” phrase, and high-ranged vocal chorus gives it wonderful tone.

The last two songs are slower, perhaps less exciting than the opening pair, are musically more complex. “Afterthoughts & TV” seems almost wistful and nostalgic in its tone. It breaks into a higher tempo for the chorus, “We’ll find a simple way to talk / we’ll find a way to turn it off.” Throughout, you’re treated to gorgeous harmonizing on the vocals. Like on “It Gets Your Body Movin’,” the brass influence of the trumpet is an awesome addition (full disclosure: I used to play the trumpet. Never was any good at it, though). Rounding out the EP is “Easy Chairs.” The song has a flavor not unlike that of the Shins, but it’s definitely still suckers. This song makes me wish that everyone in every band could sing well – the depth and variety it adds to their music is staggering, especially given how talented these guys are. Here there’s some falsetto, on that part they’re doing a four-part choral bit. I can’t get enough of that stuff. On a side note, bass was much stronger and more exposed in this song than the others, and I loved it. They probably could have and should have had more moments like that.

I try to maintain at least a marginally-professional tone when writing, but I’ve got to say this now: I absolutely love these guys. Their style is a great mix of the easygoing and the energetic. I’m not completely sure how that’s possible, but it is. The vocal parts really set these guys apart, and extras like the addition of trumpet, tom, clapping, and whistling are nice touches. The Suckers EP is a rockin’ good time, no doubt. If you want to listen to a little of their stuff, I’ve got a handy-dandy link for the “Easy Chairs” music video. Also: for those of you in the south-central part of the United States, let it be known that Suckers will be at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. I can’t wait to see these guys in concert. Oh yeah: buy their EP.

Beacons of Post-rock: Tortoise

I’m writing this review from Xishuangbanna, a region in southwestern China. It sits along the Mekong river, not very far from the borders of Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. It’s hot, humid, and currently raining almost every day – monsoon season and all. You know how it goes. Anyway, the general attitude is very laid-back, not so much lazy as unwilling to move fast in the heat. I like it here. I like sitting here and drinking chilled mango juice, and I like listening to Tortoise’s new album while I’m doing it.

Beacons of Ancestorship is the name. It’s out June 23rd, fully five years after their last release. This thing has been a long time coming for fans of the band, and trust me, there are lots of them. Quick history lesson: Tortoise is a hugely important band. They’ve been around a while. Back in the early 1990s, they helped to create what is now known as post-rock. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it boils down to music that isn’t rock, but is played on rock instruments. It’s primarily instrumental, and almost always experimental. I like to think that post-rock bands don’t create songs, so much as things that grow and develop as the music continues. If that sounds silly, go listen to some music from the likes of Explosions In The Sky or Slint. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

That being said, Tortoise is a little different. It’s the like the guy that’s so far ahead of the curve that nobody knows what he’s talking about until five years later, and suddenly they understand. Or maybe they don’t. They pull from lots of different genres, showing influence from the likes of jazz, progressive rock, and a liberal dose of electronica/techno. Their sound is synth-heavy, along with electric guitar, drums, and bass.

The album opens with something of a bang. “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” has a great intro – drums and bass give it a very alt-rock feel initially, which then gives way to synth that feels more like Daft Punk. The entire time layers of sound are meshing, moving from dissonance to resolution and back again. The song has a great beat to it, especially with the synth. It feels much more energetic and lively than your typical post-rock. It’s fun… part funk, part electronic, all post-rock.

“Northern Something” has a percussive intro, followed by some intense synth. It’s possibly one of my favorite parts of this album yet. There’s definitely some techno/trance influence, and trust me, it works really well here. Beacons of Ancestorship has an energetic quality to it that is imminently danceable, which is pretty cool. This song has something of a Latin influence to the rhythms employed, and it works really well with the ever-present, buzzing synth. The track was over too soon, if you ask me. I would’ve taken more of that stuff. There’s no stopping these guys, though. On to the next track!

One of the major features of Tortoise’s sound is blending different styles together. In “Gigantes,” you’ve got a sweet guitar bit that works well against energetic drums; it’s jazz meets trance/electronic meets post-rock. “Penumbra” is something of an interlude that starts out sounding like videogame soundtrack, then adding some kind of retro 1940s-Hollywood dreamy bit in the background, and “de Chelly” layers synth on top of a mellow organ track. Like so many bands of that genre, they are a little difficult to describe, tending to mix genres and styles at will. Effects are numerous and varied. This album is an experience, to say the least. There aren’t any lyrics, nothing that you can sing off-key in front of your friends, but that’s probably a good thing. Nobody wants to hear you sing anyway.

The wildest song of the album was “Yinxianghechengqi” (the name, if you’re curious, is some run-together Chinese). This sucker has some of the heaviest and hardest distortion of anything else on the album so far, and it’s on, well, everything. Except maybe the drums. Not sure how you would go about adding distortion to them, but I digress. This one is rowdy, a bit spastic, and sounds like the kind of music I imagine Salvador Dali might have made, were he a  musician and not a painter. It’s loud,  a little overwhelming, and exciting because of it. The level drops off at just the right moment, leaving you with a sort of haunting, minute-long echo of what was going on just a second before. Brilliant.

“Charteroak Foundation” rounds out the album with a dark, foreboding tone at the beginning that’s absolutely delicious. Add in in bass and drums at a different tempo, and the tone completely changes. These guys are the masters of unlikely fusion. Extra, higher-pitched synth falls in on top of everything else. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the stuff of genius.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Beacons of Ancestorship isn’t exactly what I would describe as pop music. You’ve got to be into this sort of thing to dig it, or at least open-minded with regard to your music. If that’s you, awesome. Enjoy this thing. Not sure yet? We’ve got a link to a free download of “Prepare Your Coffin”, as well as a music video for the song, so give Tortoise a listen while you go about your business today.

Dark. Funny. Shiver.

Mona Medusa is a relatively new band, and, unlike most new bands, they seem to have already come up with a unique, easily recognizable sound for their new album Shiver. This isn’t generic rock. It isn’t alt rock, at least in the generic sense of the term. It isn’t even really dark wave, which is the closest I could come up with that they match. It’s a combination of the three, a fun-but-disturbing mix of happy and sad vocals, laid down over guitar and drums, with the periodic violin or accordion part. Sounds interesting, right? That’s because it is.

The songs “What Is Will Be” and “Ousire” have an energetic feel to them – is that possible while making dark music? Apparently so, because Mona Medusa pulls it off cleanly. There’s a hint of a rebellion and angst in the lead vocals, though it’s contrasted against backup vocals that swing from creepy, wordless harmonizing to amusing bits that shake and quiver like the stereotypical ghost sound you might hear in an old horror movie. It’s worth nothing that for the most part background vocals are female, with male lead vocals. They sound pretty good together, though I think the backup vocals could be a bit stronger. “Ousire” ends well, with tension that builds, builds, builds, and finally resolves. Touches like that are what make an album.

Mona Medusa takes on a different tone mid-album with “Water and Women (reprise).” For starters, it’s quieter, and acoustic; the combination is actually a very nice sound, though quite the departure from the rest of the album. The previously-mentioned accordion comes into play on this track to great effect, adding some excellent flavor to the song. “Fire and Glass,” another change from their typical sound, is a short and sweet instrumental break. It’s a string intro with violin and acoustic guitar that’s gorgeous. It leads nicely into the next song, “Blood on Blood.”

Speaking of “Blood on Blood,” it was one of my favorites of the album, with a sweet, distorted guitar intro and a more triumphant, cathartic tone to it than the rest of the album. Mona Medusa displays some great instrumental versatility in their music, primarily thanks to member Andrea Lee – she provides the violin and accordion parts that round out their sound and help to distinguish their sound from that of other bands. The tone of song is summed up by the lyrics, “I want to rise / I want to rise through the fire.”

Shiver is a fine offering from a band that is just starting to hit their stride. Mona Medusa manages to cover a wide range of tone and emotion across the tracks without making anything that is distinctly not-them; you can listen to any of these and tell that it’s Mona Medusa that made it. They’ve made it further than many bands ever do – finding “their” sound. I’d like to see more and stronger interplay between the male and female vocals; they place nicely off each other when singing full-out. They still have room to develop and grow their sound, but Mona Medusa is off to a great start with Shiver.